Jordan Neely: Protests in New York after chokehold killing of subway passenger

Jordan Neely pictured outside a New York theatre in 2009.
(Andrew Savulich/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Michael Jackson impersonator Jordan Neely pictured outside a New York theatre in 2009. Credit: Andrew Savulich/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The death of a man who was put in a chokehold by a fellow passenger aboard a New York City subway train has been ruled a homicide by a medical examiner.

The death of Jordan Neely has sparked fresh racial tensions in the United States, after footage was shared of subway rider who appears to be white restraining the 30-year-old black man.

Mr Neely was known for his Michael Jackson impersonations on the subway, and New York commuters paying tribute shared their footage of him dancing over the years in the wake of his death.

A fellow subway rider, who has been identified as a US Marine veteran, was filmed restraining Mr Neely.

Neely was put in a chokehold until his body went limp, according to police officials and video of the encounter.

He died from compression of the neck, the city’s medical examiner determined on Wednesday.

Footage of the incident that is being widely shared online showed Mr Neely being restrained by at least three people on Monday.

While it was unclear why his fellow passengers had moved to restrain him in the first place, witnesses and police claimed Mr Neely had been yelling and pacing back and forth on the F train in Manhattan.

One of the subway passengers, a US Marine veteran, pulled his arm tightly around Mr Neely's neck before he lost consciousness during the struggle.

Video of the altercation posted online by a freelance journalist showed the man lying beneath Mr Neely, holding him in a headlock position for several minutes as he tried and failed to break free.

A second passenger pinned his arms while a third person held down his shoulder.

Emergency medical technicians and police arrived after the train stopped at a station, but Mr Neely was pronounced dead at a Manhattan hospital shortly after.

The 24-year-old Marine veteran, who appeared to be white, was taken into custody and released without charges. His name has not been released publicly.

Protesters march through the Broadway-Lafayette subway station to protest the death of Jordan Neely. Credit: AP

The medical examiner's office classified Mr Neely's death as a homicide and the manner as a chokehold, but noted that any determination about criminal culpability would be left to the legal system.

The Manhattan district attorney's office said it is investigating.

“As part of our rigorous ongoing investigation, we will review the Medical Examiner’s report, assess all available video and photo footage, identify and interview as many witnesses as possible, and obtain additional medical records,” a spokesman said.

As news of the death spread online, video of the encounter evoked strong reactions from New Yorkers and officials.

Some described the act as a lethal overreaction and criticised initial media coverage of the death, and others defended the Marine veteran’s actions.

A group of protesters gathered Wednesday afternoon in the station where Mr Neely died to call for an arrest.

Kyle Ishmael, a 38-year-old Harlem resident, said the video of the incident left him feeling “disgusted.”

“I couldn’t believe this was happening on my subway in my city that I grew up in,” he said.

The freelance journalist who recorded the incident, Juan Alberto Vazquez, said Mr Neely was screaming “in an aggressive manner,” and complaining of hunger and thirst.

Dave Giffen, the executive director at Coalition for the Homeless, blamed city and state officials for an inadequate response to New York's mental health crisis - and questioned why the Marine veteran was not facing criminal charges.

“The fact that someone who took the life of a distressed, mentally ill human being on a subway could be set free without facing any consequences is shocking,” he said.

During an appearance on CNN on Tuesday night, the mayor said there were still too many unknowns.

“We don’t know exactly what happened here,” Eric Adams said, adding that “we cannot just blatantly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that, and we should allow the investigation to take its course.”

After news of Mr Neely's death emerged, some New Yorkers recognised him as a Michael Jackson impersonator who regularly danced in the city's Times Square transit hub.

Tribute videos posted online revealed Mr Neely had a fanbase who enjoyed crossing paths with him on their daily commutes.

Jason Williams, an actor, recalled encountering Mr Neely when he first moved to the city in 2007.

Then a teenager, Mr Neely was an agile Michael Jackson impersonator, Williams said, soliciting donations as he moonwalked through the subway and lip-synced to “Billie Jean.”

“He embodied the hustle spirit of New York,” Williams said. “He was a great performer and it’s a real tragedy that he was killed so senselessly.”

Tari Tudesco, a back-up dancer in the Michael Jackson tribute act “Michael’s Mirror,” said many in the community had grown worried about Neely’s absence in recent years, and had begun searching for him, unsuccessfully. “We were in shock to find now that he was living homeless,” she said. “We feel terrible.”

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